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We continue to "drag-on" the motivation.

My fifth-graders are usually easy to motivate, especially with an assignment as exciting as dragons and mythical beasts! Since many of my projects are "typical" subjects such as flowers, animals, still life and so on, the idea of creating mythical creatures really caused a stir in my room.

As a group, we looked at dragon and mythical creature visuals. We came up with some guidelines. The animals needed to have feet and claws, some type of tail, scales and a reptile-like appearance. Many thought it should have wings and breathe fire, too. We left those things as options and the drawings began.

I intentionally told students to ignore any type of environment for this exercise and they were thrilled, since oftentimes that is the part of the project that takes a long time and is not as "fun" as the actual animal.


I left the visuals displayed on the board for motivation, and the creatures started to come to life. Some looked like they were flying, and others were running or walking. For those students who were concerned that their creatures did not "look real," this was a perfect opportunity to assure them that these aren't real things, and their creations could look any way they wanted.

They were relieved, and became more confident in the drawing process. There is something special about opening the door and letting the students make up their animals, rather than always trying to make the creature look like something already in existence.

When the basic drawing was nearing completion, we talked about color. I wanted my fifth-graders to have another colored pencil project so we chose that as our media. We reviewed blending colors and color schemes. We also talked about the use of color to show texture. For this project, all of the colored areas need to be blended using several colors in an area. They needed to show textures such as scales, wings, chest plates and so on.

When asked about using "realistic" colors, we laughed! Since these are made-up animals, so are the colors! The ideas started flying again as they got to work adding details and colors to the beasts.

As students neared the end of the coloring, they started to wonder about how they would finish the project. Where would their animal live? Some feared they would have to draw the environment after all!

Regarding the background environment, every year, around the holidays, I ask parents, students and staff to donate their old calendars to the art department, rather than throw them away. I especially like calendars with land- and seascapes. The photos are excellent, the colors vivid and the size is usually large enough to use as a background, which is exactly what we did here. I laid a stack of backgrounds on each table and let students go through them, finding just the right environment for their creature.


After much trial, trading and decision-making, each student found a background that would work for their animal's environment. They cut out the animals and carefully glued them to the chosen calendar page.


Having a realistic background made a huge difference with the look of the project! The animals looked so much more lifelike and the students were thrilled with what they had created. Since this project was about creating the animal itself, using an existing environment worked for everyone, and the results were magical?

Such a project could easily lend itself to pen patterns, oil pastels, black-and-white shading and a variety of other techniques. Students of all ages can take advantage of this "background" technique and help with recycling, as well.


Upper-elementary students will ...

* create a contour drawing of a dragon or other mythical beast.

* show detail and movement.

* render the beast with colored media.

* blend several colors to show form and texture.

* cut out the creature.

* choose a realistic background and place the creature on it.


* 8.5" x 11" drawing paper

* Visuals for reference

* Pencils

* Color media, such as colored pencils or oil pastels

* Backgrounds from calendars or magazines

* Glue and scissors

Shirley Laird teaches art at St. Paul's Episcopal Day School in Kansas City, Mo.
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Author:Laird, Shirley
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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